Foods to eat, and avoid, for managing thyroid conditions

The thyroid gland just might be the most understated organ in the human body.

Its impacts are far-reaching, from regulating your metabolism and controlling growth to determining your mood and controlling perspiration. Individuals with thyroid problems can have excessive fatigue, memory loss, rapid weight gain or loss, muscle aches, constipation, dry skin and other symptoms.

According to the American Thyroid Association, “The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.”

Thyroid conditions, however, often can be managed naturally through one’s diet. Knowing what to eat, as well as what to avoid, has an immense impact on whether conditions are mitigated or recurring.

As a doctor of functional medicine, I prescribe natural remedies to treat the underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms, not necessarily the symptoms themselves. So for patients with overactive or underactive thyroids, I examine their medical history, diets and exercise regimens. Food often is a trigger for their thyroid conditions.

What’s unusual about diets for thyroid patients is that certain foods considered “healthy” by many doctors – kale, broccoli, strawberries and sweet potatoes, for example – can actually prevent the thyroid from functioning properly for some individuals, and the same food item can have opposite results in those with underactive thyroids as opposed to overactive thyroids.

Overactive thyroid

If you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), you should maintain a low iodine diet that includes egg whites, fresh whole fruit, unsalted nuts, oats and potatoes. Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and rutabaga can prevent a thyroid from using iodine properly, but for individuals with hyperthyroidism, these could be beneficial in smaller amounts.

Proper nutrition is critical for everyone, but individuals with overactive thyroids should maintain diets rich in these nutrients:

  • Iron: chicken, turkey, high-quality red meat, seeds, nuts, dried beans, green leafy vegetables
  • Zinc: high-quality beef, mushrooms, cashews, chickpeas
  • Vitamin D: fresh orange, mushrooms
  • Calcium: okra, kale, spinach, almond milk
  • Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, unsalted nuts and seeds

As far as foods not to eat, the list includes milk, cheese, egg yolks, processed meats, wheat and soy.

Underactive thyroid

The opposite of hyperthyroidism, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) occurs when your body is not producing an ample supply of thyroid hormones, so proper food choices can help relieve that deficiency.

Selecting foods that contain iodine, zinc and selenium can spark activity in an underactive thyroid, so incorporating foods high in those nutrients is important. Foods on the OK list for those with hypothyroidism include:

  • Whole eggs, including the iodine-heavy yolk
  • All types of seafood, including salmon, tuna, shrimp and halibut
  • Cooked cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Sweet potatoes and quinoa also can be advantageous.
  • Dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese

Call a Doctor

Anyone with concerns about their thyroid function and dietary requirements should see a doctor and discuss how other existing conditions, like an autoimmune disease, can impact your nutrition plan.

Genetics, medical history and environmental toxins can negatively impact thyroid conditions, but your diet is one factor you can control. One technique employed by many suffering from thyroid conditions is attempting to regulate blood sugar levels by eating similar-sized, small-portioned meals at the same time each day. That might not sound appetizing, but preventing blood sugar swings is beneficial to the thyroid.

To schedule an appointment and discuss your personal thyroid-friendly diet, call our office at 239-649-7400 or submit an appointment request through our online form.